Rochester's apple cider lady
Food writer Holly Ebel says April Sutor is an apple-mashing genius with her homemade cider.
At a meeting some weeks ago I was given a glass of apple cider, not unusual since it's a popular fall beverage. What got my attention was how incredibly delicious it was: smooth, appley, full of flavor, like having just taken a bite out of an apple.
Clearly not a commercial cider because of the deep color, and the drink was also served in a former Cran-apple bottle.
I asked about this nectar and was told that the cider was pressed by April Sutor. So friends, that's how I came to find myself in April's Rochester garage on a recent chilly Sunday morning watching her press apples into this wonderful beverage.
When I arrived she was already well into it, adding apple after apple to a grinder. The machine grinds the apples into a fairly unappetizing-looking mixture, which she then puts into a barrel press that presses it down, forcing the precious juice out at a leisurely pace into a large plastic bucket.
A simple procedure? Hardly. All the equipment is muscle-powered, no batteries or electricity, This is how she spends her Sundays, describing this as a hobby.
"I love it," April said.
And so she must. There were bushels upon bushels of the fruit in her garage, and even more bushels in her car. And believe this — she was going to a friend's orchard to get even more that afternoon.
"It's been a great year for apples," she said.
I wondered how she'd gotten into this hobby.
"I grew up in Marshall, Minnesota, and watched people mash apples. The whole process appealed to me," April said. "Then about 10 years ago, a neighbor and a friend who both had orchards asked if I wanted some apples, and that's when it started. At first I was using a meat grinder to mash the apples, and that took, time, was messy and wasn't easy, but then my siblings rescued me by giving me the apple grinder. What a difference that made."
There's nothing fancy about the two pieces of equipment — they do what they were designed to do — grind and mash. During a break in the action she poured a glass for me from the bucket that was catching the juice.
"That's barely 10 minutes old," April added.
She estimates she gets two to three gallons a pressing. Each gallon takes roughly 20 pounds of apples to produce the juice.
April grinds and presses into December.
Is the kind of apple important to the overall taste of the cider?
"Not at all. I use whatever I am able to get or am given — Haralsons, Sweet 16s, Granny Smiths — it makes no difference," April said. "It doesn't matter. One that I especially like is the Chestnut crab, a small apple that brings a cinnamon taste."
Each batch, she said, is unique because there is always a mixture of different apple varieties.
"I call it the 'Seven Generation Cider' because of what goes into it," April said. "I've even had apples you've never heard of, some going as far back as the Civil War."
During the week, April leaves the apples and is a director of Family Services Rochester. She also referees volleyball at both the high school and college level. That's not all. A few years ago she organized a neighborhood garden on an empty space at the end of her street, and neighbors who wanted to were given a plot.
This love of gardening is evident at her home where she has a sour cherry tree, which yielded 40 gallons of the small fruit this year, in her front yard and raspberry bushes growing in the back.
What does she do with all the cider? She freezes and cans a lot of it, but mainly she gives it away to friends, neighbors colleagues.
Does she cook with it?
"It's great in a smoothie," she said.
A fall favorite, apple cider is delicious either hot or cold, plain or spruced up with spices. Try it in desserts, syrups, cakes and of course apple cider donuts. It also adds to sauces, marinades and vinaigrette dressings. What about as a cocktail? It can also be transformed into an adult beverage with rum, whiskey or bourbon added. It truly is one of the more versatile of the seasonal beverages, however it is used.
Apple cider pancakes
2 cups complete pancake mix
1-1/4 cups apple cider
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
Butter flavored cooking spray
Put pancake mix into a medium-sized bowl and stir in apple cider. Cider can be adjusted to desired thickness of the batter. Stir in spices, brown sugar and vanilla. Stir in nuts, if using. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and spray with cooking spray. Use about 1/4 cup of batter per pancake. Turn over when bubbles appear in the center, and cook until golden on the other side. Serve immediately with pats of butter and syrup.
Apple cider turkey gravy (or chicken or pork)
2-1/2 cups turkey stock
1 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons dried rubbed sage
1/2 cup apple cider
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Salt and pepper to taste
Scrape juices and browned bits from the roasting pan into a large measuring cup. Measure out 2-1/2 cups. Add the garlic and sage to the drippings and place in saucepan over medium heat. Whisk flour and apple cider together to remove any clumps. Pour the flour mixture into the drippings and whisk. Keep whisking as the mixture comes to a low boil and thickens to desired consistency. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm.
Apple cider biscuits
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup cold butter
3/4 cup apple cider
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
In a bowl combine the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in cider just until moistened. Turn out onto lightly floured surface and knead 8-10 times. Roll out to 1/2-inch thickness, cut with a 2-1/2-inch biscuit cutter. Place on ungreased cookie sheets. Sprinkle with cinnamon, pierce tops of biscuits with a fork. Bake at 425 until golden brown. Serve with honey if desired.
Post Bulletin food writer Holly Ebel knows what’s cookin’. Send comments or story tips to firstname.lastname@example.org .